By Anne Lucey, Tralee
The jury in the trial of north Kerry farmer Michael Ferris at the Central Criminal Court in Tralee has returned a verdict of “not guilty of murder, but guilty of manslaughter. “
The seven men and five women had been deliberating for four hours and 31 minutes. Ten minutes earlier had been told they could bring in a majority verdict.
The decision was reached by a majority of 10 to two.
Thanking them, Ms Justice Carmel Stewart said it had not been an easy trial and they could be excused from jury duty for 10 years.
Michael Ferris, a dairy farmer, and a single man, aged 63, of Rattoo in Co. Kerry had pleaded not guilty to the murder of John Anthony O’Mahony, a bachelor and a tillage farmer aged 73 of Ardoughter, Ballyduff, at Rattoo at around 8am on April 4, 2017.
The prosecution had argued the killing had been deliberate and intentional and it was murder.
However, the defence had argued there had been accumulated provocation because of the behaviour of the dead man, John Anthony O’Mahony, and the fair verdict and the just verdict would be manslaughter.
Brendan Grehan, SC, had said in his closing speech that he made no apology for speaking ill of the dead, which was not a normal thing to do. But it was necessary to show why Michael Ferris “a good man who did a bad thing,” did what he did.
Michael Ferris, a man who had no previous convictions and for whom everyone had a good word, and was obliging and kind, had not become a murderer overnight, Mr Grehan said.
The family of Anthony O’Mahony man shook their heads and cried as the not guilty of murder verdict was read out.
Ms Justice Stewart said she wanted to express her sympathy to Mr O’Mahony’s relatives on his death.
Sentencing will be at the Central Criminal Court in Dublin on November 26.
Dairy farmer Michael Ferris appeared to be in a rather composed state from the moment gardaí met him, within an hour of the killing.
He had gone to a neighbour’s house and told Mairead Walsh: “Mahony is gone. Call the guards.”
Detectives from Tralee arrived in Ms Walsh’s kitchen on the Rattoo laneway where the killing occurred.
Ferris immediately told Det Sgt Donal Horgan: “I’ll tell ye what happened.”
A memo of Ferris’s first interview noted: “Anthony Mahony was going to be coming down the road with a crow banger.
“It [the crow banger] would wake the dead. I spoke to him years ago about it. Today, I blocked the road with a teleporter to stop him coming down. I parked it sideways.
“He started hooting. I was not in the teleporter. I sat up on the teleporter. I did not talk to him.
“No good talking to him.
“The pallet forks I had on it; I made for the car and drove into it.”
Ferris was arrested and conveyed to Listowel Garda Station. Detective Garda Paul Walsh, who interviewed Ferris along with the arresting sergeant, Detective John Heaslip, told the trial Ferris was asked to explain the background. Ferris replied: “It was all over a crow banger really.”
Describing it “a bit like a shotgun, only being a lot louder”, Ferris said the noise was going on for over a week. It was “very annoying”, he told the officers.
Det Sgt Heaslip asked what made that morning different. Ferris replied: “I just snapped, I suppose.”
And when Det Sgt Heaslip asked him what he said to himself that morning, Ferris replied: “I had to do something about it, John.”
When he heard Mr O’Mahony’s car hooting, Det Heaslip asked: “What were you thinking; what was going through your mind?” to which Ferris replied: “Nothing good anyway, John.”
Pressed on why it was that he set out to take action that morning, Ferris said: “Because this banging business had been going on with the last 30 years and he was paying no heed to anyone when they asked him to turn it off.
“He had to be stopped one way or another.”
He was going to “drive the forks through the window anyway”.
“Are you saying you intended to kill him?” the detective asked.
Ferris said yes, adding: “He had to be stopped and that was it.”
Det Sgt Heaslip put it to Ferris: “Surely there was some other way to get around” the problem of the crow banger.
Ferris replied: “Believe me there wasn’t.”
Garda Michelle Redding was the member-in-charge. She took his personal details and told the trial Ferris appeared calm and answered her questions coherently.
She had no difficulty with him, and accepted “he was a gentleman in every regard” that morning.
Prosecutor Patrick McGrath told the jury: “What is remarkable is his behaviour afterwards, the absence of regret, the absence of remorse, the absence of shock.”
Multiple penetrating wounds led to “total evulsion of the heart and liver” and the death of 73-year-old Kerry tillage farmer, John Anthony O’Mahony.
State pathologist, Margot Bolster, spent up to an hour in court detailing the “polytrauma” suffered by Mr O’Mahony on April 4, 2017. His injuries included “gaping” and penetrating wounds consistent with being inflicted by the prongs of a teleporter.
On the day of Mr O’Mahony’s death, Dr Bolster visited the scene on the narrow road leading to a ruined abbey and round tower at Rattoo in Kerry.
In a car, she saw the body of an elderly man with his seatbelt partially around him, his head slumped on his chest. There was a large amount of broken glass and the dashboard had been driven over his legs. A large portion of his bowel could be seen protruding from his shirt. The seat belt had been torn, Dr Bolster said.
There was a large gaping hole in the windscreen, two gaping holes on the roof and another on the side of the bonnet. The left door was partially driven in and the back door of the car pushed out.
There was a double-barrelled shotgun, unloaded, and cartridges in the boot of the car. Further down the road was a teleporter with two prongs sticking out and there was blood and smearing on both prongs.
On removal of the body, the man’s lacerated liver could be seen at the front well of the driver’s seat, and his lacerated heart was between the side of the door and the driver’s seat.
There were multiple injuries and fractures and “gaping wounds”; one of the wounds had gone right through Mr O’Mahony’s skull and brain tissue could be seen; there were injuries to his mouth, abrasions to the limbs, multiple fractures of his pelvis, injury to his groin, and injury to his lungs, There were at least five penetrating wounds — two of these had gone right through his body, to the back, the pathologist said.
At one point Dr Bolster said Mr O’Mahony’s liver had been “totally evulsed or torn, totally pulped” and found externally — that is outside the body. In conclusion, she said death would have been immediate.
In court, gardaí also described arriving at the scene of the killing. The court heard that it was “an alarming” scene with ditches torn up on either side of the road. There was debris from a car for a distance of 50ft-70ft. A man, later identified as Anthony O’Mahony, was found with “catastrophic, horrific injuries, and no-one about”.
Listowel Garda Pat Naughton received a call from the control centre at 8.30am that there had been a collision between a teleporter and a car and a man might be trapped there. The garda patrol arrived at Rattoo at 8.41am.
“A lone male was sitting in the driver’s seat with his seatbelt on. He had catastrophic injuries, They were horrific injuries, absolutely horrific injuries to his upper body, to his face, to his skull. They were absolutely horrific,” Garda Naughton said.
Garda Naughton walked about 50m-60m down the road and saw a yellow New Holland teleporter at the entrance to a milking parlour. It had been backed in off the road. The cab door was missing. On the front fork there was blood and possibly tissue and glass and paint.
A crow banger used by tillage farmer, John Anthony O’Mahony, would go off every four minutes and 26 seconds at key tillage periods to frighten off crows and pigeons, and was so loud some neighbours wore ear protectors.
Prosecution witness Mairead Walsh, who lives on the lane to Rattoo Round Tower said that when Mr O’Mahony brought the banger closer to their house, it was like a gun going off and her husband approached him about it.
The banger, which ran from early morning to late at night, was “like a gun going off”, she said.
The banger had been placed against a wall, around 120m from their house. The dead man knew they had a problem with the noise and he could just as easily have moved it, but “he was no way accommodating”.
Patrick Walsh, husband of Mairead Walsh said the crow banger had been set up in by Mr O’Mahony, on the Thursday — six days before April 4, 2017, which was the day of the killing.
It was going off “every 4 minutes and 26 seconds — I had it timed,” Mr Walsh told the court.
Mr Walsh phoned the council on Monday, April 3, fearing he would have to put up with this again to next October. He was told to keep a log.
Of the banger, Mr Walsh also said: “You’d have to live alongside a banger to understand that. It’s horrendous. It would follow you everywhere up to your room, out in your yard, it’s everywhere,” he said referring to the echo since it had been placed against the wall of a building near their house, rather than in the cornfield where it had been.
The crow banger was requested by defence counsel Brendan Grehan SC. It was brought to the witness stand by public service vehicle inspector Garda James O’Brien.
Belgian made, it was about 20 years old and gas operated. A red muzzle 26in long was fitted to a blue metal unit and the entire unit was 50in.
It was in good condition, Garda O’Brien said. It operated like a cigarette lighter and gas and noise were “directed out through the barrel or nozzle”.
The “ferocity” or fixed noise level were not adjustable, but the frequency was, the PSV inspector said.
Where the crow banger was placed and in which direction its nozzle faced was also of significance. If it were in a field, the noise, which moved in waves, would be absorbed.
But if it were against the wall, it would reverberate, the garda said — and if the barrel was pointed at the wall, then it would be more intense again, he told Mr Grehan.
The PSV expert told how he had carried out a number of “comparison tests” between a standard shotgun and the crow banger. The manufacturer’s instructions said the unit operated at 92 decibels and over an area the size of two football fields.
But at close range of 1m or so the sound level from the crow banger was 118 decibels — louder than the shotgun’s 113 decibels.
At a 50m distance, the crow banger and shotgun were similar, at 97 and 98 respectively, he said.
It was designed for the middle of a field, he felt.
“If you fire the crow banger very close you are going to hear it much louder. In the middle of the field it is going to be less.”
The banger in question was set at one-minute intervals, Garda O’Brien said indicating the setting device to the jury. It had been located by gardaí in a shed on the deceased man’ lands, near the Walsh’s house, Garda O’Brien said.
Mr Grehan asked if he had worn” ear protectors” when carrying out the tests, and the garda said he had.
It was “a very disturbing noise”, Garda O’Brien said, adding that you would have ringing in your ears and your equilibrium would be affected.